The Final Scene
What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
For the last decade my father has been sending me Jerry Lewis DVDs. The Nutty Professor, Colgate Comedy Hour Anthologies, etc. He always stressed to me that my idols (Jim Carrey, Will Ferrel, etc.) all had one big influence in common… Jerry Lewis. This past November, he proposed the task for me to conceive a film that showed Jerry Lewis at age 28. Neither of us having any knowledge, I turned to google quickly and the search led me to see that Martin and Lewis parted ways when Jerry was only 28. Immediately their heartbreak was front and center. This felt like the story that needed to be investigated. This felt as universal as any topic.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
A break up with a friend is a surprisingly tough experience. Because it feels like the parting of two lovers, and yet it’s different. But the spanning of the full spectrum of intimacy is identical. A paralleling (though not on the world’s stage) recent personal experience offered an emotional understanding that felt clear enough to engage with this story with a kind of empathy. The moment when you have to ask yourself “why does this hurt so much?” And the only answer that seems to arise instantaneously is “because it’s love.”
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
The stakes of the story seemed to ascend and accelerate quite quickly. Working on a sound stage with a whole crew working all day to create this film about a sound stage with a whole crew working to create something all of a sudden gave us a true understanding of what, in the moment, was exacerbating their already turbulent work/personal life. Also, when re-creating the game show sequences, we began to feel the weight of the performance responsibility. This is pre-social media, and pre-TMZ. And yet their personal lives were leaking into the public light. It took a lot for them to keep it strictly entertainment.
What influenced the visual style of your film?
The main goal of this film aesthetically was to find away to bore through the pristine sheen of the golden age of cinema, and show this world in a way that a contemporary audience would find very little gap between their world and the one on screen. The hand-held style immediately puts you in the room. The room that no one has ever seen when it comes to Martin and Lewis. The sadness, and stakes were going to be in the very pores of their skin, and slight turn of an eye. Whereas the game shows are shot as broadcasted. To establish the subject, and then press in and reveal the human condition.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during writing and production?
This film wasn’t about being exact and accurate. We didn’t really look like these people. The goal was not to rest heavily on the biography aspect of this film. Instead, it was about taking these archetypes and letting their universal nature tell the story. If no one knows Martin and Lewis… that is fine. But they will know what it feels like to love your best friend and collaborator. That was most important.
Were there any risks that you faced during writing/production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
There is very much a main character in this film. It is Jerry’s experience, but that doesn’t mean that Dean is then the bad guy. In fact, Dean’s perspective was most important. To find the moment when Jerry hears Dean’s truth, and he can’t deny it. When no one is wrong and no one is right. When the circumstances just… are… and everyone’s experience is valid and true. There is a silence in that moment. There is a surrender. That was what we were after. The risk, and the trap, would be to one sided about anything.
What risks does your story take?
The film sits in its moments. The main scene is in a dressing room. Part of the experience of that scene comes from its duration. The tension, discomfort, and sadness comes from the accrual of time and repetition. It is a long scene, and that required a kind of loose shooting style. Photography was encouraged to leave the person’s face and focus on their hand. How is their hand reacting to this moment? How does the twisting cigarette smoke convey the room? It left a lot to chance, and a lot to the editing room. But a locked off camera would only neglect information. The DP really went for it, and saw what the fly on the wall would see.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
The moment that always seem to reveal itself as the lesson of the project, is the vast space between what is on the page and what is on the stage. The whole film get’s reimagined with every step you take closer to manifesting it. Tone and essence were the things that navigated those spaces with great ease. So I would encourage an investigation of tone. What common thing is every character in the film after? Then you have style and drive.